Madhu Natisar Nath is a Rajasthani farmer with no formal schooling. He is also a singer, a musician, and a storyteller. At the center of A Carnival of Parting are Madhu Nath's oral performances of two linked tales about the legendary Indian kings, Bharthari of Ujjain and Gopi Chand of Bengal. Both characters, while still in their prime, leave thrones and families to be initiated as yogis—a process rich in adventure and melodrama, one that offers unique insights into popular Hinduism's view of world renunciation. Ann Grodzins Gold presents these living oral epic traditions as flowing narratives, transmitting to Western readers the pleasures, moods, and interactive dimensions of a village bard's performance.
Three introductory chapters and an interpretive afterword, together with an appendix on the bard's language by linguist David Magier, supply A Carnival of Parting with a full range of ethnographic, historical, and cultural backgrounds. Gold gives a frank and engaging portrayal of the bard Madhu Nath and her work with him.
The tales are most profoundly concerned, Gold argues, with human rather than divine realities. In a compelling afterword, she highlights their thematic emphases on politics, love, and death. Madhu Nath's vital colloquial telling of Gopi Chand and Bharthari's stories depicts renunciation as inevitable and interpersonal attachments as doomed, yet celebrates human existence as a "carnival of parting."
Ann Grodzins Gold is Associate Director of the South Asia Program and Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Cornell University. She is the author of Fruitful Journeys (California, 1988).